3 Jan 2007

About ..... Glazing with Acrylics

On reflection 2

Acrylic on canvas (12 x 9 x 1.5 ins)

My first painting of 2007. Well, the first finished in 2007 to be exact because I started it ages ago and put it to one side - and at that point it had just been undercoated in brick-red acrylic with some white canvas areas left in the centre. I decided to continue it using my theme of 'water reflections' ... I feel that I need to stick with something and keep trying, instead jumping around from this to that! The painting is mainly thin glazes of colour with some opaque passages both underneath and on top.

Fellow artist Philip Edson has suggested that I write about glazing techniques .... Well, I don't if this is the 'right way' to do it because I have just been trying things out for myself. However, I think it might be good if I write about what I do at the moment and invite comments on how other people go about it. So How About It?


Definition - my definition of 'glazing' is that it's a method of applying acrylic paint in very thin layers of diluted pigment to achieve desired colours and effects.

What I use:

For glazing I nearly always use transparent acrylic paints - most good makes identify on the tube whether the pigment inside is transparent, semi-transparent (semi-opaque), or opaque.

However, I do sometimes use semi-opaque pigment if I want a 'smokey' look. This can also be achieved by mixing the colour with a small amount of white or Naples yellow.

I usually use the colour straight from the tube (i.e. the pigment is not mixed with any other - only diluted) and rely on getting the tone or shade or colour I want by glazing several layers of one colour, or one colour over another.

I mix the colours with either water, water + retardant, or acrylic medium. Most often I use just water, as I have yet to get used to mediums and am not well versed in their different properties.

How I apply the glazes:

Brushing - as you might imagine this is the same as normal painting with a brush except that the pigment is very thin and watery. I use a fairly large brush ... 1", 1.5" or 2".

Puddling - dropping colours on to an area of canvas, either singly or together, and rolling them around to create swirls, etc. This works best if you wet the area to be painted first.

Runs - this is similar to Puddling except that you encourage the pigment to run down or across the surface in straightish lines.

Scraping - for semi-opaque glazes I like to mix the paint to a fairly soft consistency on a plastic plate and dip the edge of a plastic card (or anything similar) into it, then scrape the colour over the surface.

Achieving effects:

Basically glazes modify the appearance of the paint layer underneath and each succeeding layer will darken the colour slightly. So some planning ahead is needed .... especially deciding where you want your light areas to be and avoiding these or only glazing them very thinly. Otherwise I find that glazing is very much a case of 'suck it and see' (not literally, of course ... health & safety and all that!).

Because you are using very thin layers of colour it is easy to change or adjust a layer, or create particular effects, by wiping or patting. For this I use kitchen paper towel, a soft brush, a wet cloth or cotton-buds.

It is fun to try transparent glazes over semi-opaque glazes, and vice versa. Glazing also works over textured areas and underpainted areas.

Now I'm sure that there is much more I need to learn about glazing technique, but as I said - trial and error is really the only way to find out!

If anyone has any Tips or Techniques for Glazing, please, PLEASE comment ... it would be great to have a discussion on it. Maybe someone has something to share regarding the use of acrylic mediums for glazing?

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Philip said...

Thanks for this very comprehensive article Lesly. I think I have been 'glazing' without realising it and use many of the same methods that you do. Many of my paintings are built up in layers in the way you describe.

Also, I don't know much about acrylic medium so don't tend to use it. I do use a lot of acrylic gel though and am never without a large tub of it. Do you use this at all?

The 'Titan' paint I use in Spain (which I love) comes in small pots and is not transparent. But you've got me thinking now and I shall hunt around some more.

I shall be interested to read other comments on this article. In the meantime have a glass of Rioja on me!

leslyf@gmail.com said...

Hi Philip

I am sure that there is a lot more to glazing than I have written here .... as you rightly say a lot of this is probably familiar to people already.

I haven't used the gel although I hear from a lot of people on the Web how good it is ... I haven't found any here yet. But as I but Atelier paints here i should be able to find some gel as i am pretty sure they make it.

I will pass on the Rioja for this evening ... I have just spent an hour trying clean up the mess I made when i knocked a glass of red wine flying in the lounge. OMG...

Ed Maskevich said...

Lesly, you seem to have all the basics of glazing down. The general rule of thumb it that you go from light to dark. With oils you can always see what you are getting. With acrylics, the color shift, especially with glazing can cause grief. I know an artist that uses his acrylics in a similar manner to using his watercolors and gets good results. If you are glazing using paint thinned with water you may want to try putting a coat or 2 of clear medium between color layers. It will add some depth and richness. When I used acrylics I also kept a blow drier handy to speed up the drying time.

leslyf@gmail.com said...

Hi Ed

That's a great tip about using clear medium between the color layers.

And about using a blow drier too - I do this sometimes, especially in the winter when things seem to take forever to dry!

Nice to see you and thanks.

Philip said...

Hmmm. But I don't have a hair dryer!!

Alina Chau said...


Philip said...


Just to let you know that I followed this up and tried using acylic medium between layers. I didn't find the effect to be different from acrylic gel which, here at least, is a lot cheaper. It's also much more versatile than the medium (e.g.adhesive,texture).

I also have a hairdryer in the studio now!

leslyf@gmail.com said...

Thanks for that, Philip. Interesting that you found no difference and the gel is cheaper where you are.

I have at last found some impasto gel ... Atelier's. It was 16.50 NZD for a 250ml jar as against 17.00 NZD for 250ml Atelier gloss medium & varnish. But I have yet to try the gel as I only bought it a few days ago.

And I am glad that you have bought a hairdryer ... a very useful item. Only it is a tool more more useful to me than you, I think (!!!).

Philip said...

I am not sure what you have bought is the same gel as I use. Mine comes in very large tubs (about a kilo in weight). One tub can last me all year and costs about €16 compared to a 250ml jar of medium which costs about €4.35. The medium only lasted for two paintings! I felt cheated!

It is simply called 'Acrylic Gel' and comes in gloss or matt. I always use gloss as I also use gloss varnish so it kind of fits. It's a brilliant adhesive and I have also used it for household jobs which makes it doubly useful. It dries clear but can be mixed with acrylic paint and/or small objects, sand, beads, fabric, cling film, wood or anything like that. For these reasons I regard it as one of my 'essentials'.

All of my deeply textured paintings are made with this and I shall be showing some more work of this kind on my blog soon.

It's a real mess on your fingers though and takes some getting off if you let it dry! You more or less have to peel it off.

leslyf@gmail.com said...

Thanks for this information, Philip ... and I am sure that different types of Medium and Gel differ slightly (just as we do in our likes and dislikes of them!).

As I mentioned before I use the Atelier brand. Largely because that is all I can get at this southern outpost of the world! and also because I use their Acrylic paint a lot and like it.

Their Clear Painting Medium is really good for glazing and a little seems to go a long way. I have not yet tried the Impasto Gel but it is white (dries clear) and very soft (like silky whipped cream). I will let you know how I get on with it. I can only get the 250ml tub size 'off the shelf' I don't know yet how far it might go! .... maybe just one painting for all I know.

Most of the Atelier products can be used as adhesives and they certainly can be difficult to get off your fingers .. like plastic skin! But I need to experiment with them a lot more though before I really get to know all that can be done with them.

earl said...

This is my first comment on this site and may i say that i am impressed.
With regards to acrylic glazing my approach is slightly different, First I estimate how much i will need and then make up a solution of three parts acrylic painting medium to one part acrylic spreader medium then add transparent acrylic ink. This retards the drying time, the solution is very easy to control and is thin enough to use with a perfume atomizer (which I often do to create a different effect to that of a brush). I use ink rather than paint because of the greater concentration of very fine pigment and except for black and white all the colors are transparent and can be mixed without becoming grey. I use spreader medium because it has a low viscosity and i don't lose the texture of the canvas which can happen with a texture gel.
I hope my first comments suggest another way of glazing.

Lesly said...

Thanks for that Earl. Your method is completely new to me and probably is to others as well. It will no doubt be useful to many accessing this posting ... lovely to have insight into a different method. Thanks again.

Double Glazing Evesham said...

If you’re working in acrylics, you can speed up things up by using a hair drier to dry a glaze. The paint must be dry to the touch, not sticky. Work on several paintings at once so you can move from one to another while you wait for a glaze to dry.